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Towards Day 12 (Th, 10/9): Writing Workshop

Anne Dalke's picture

We will meet in the Writing Center, on
the first floor of Canaday, 1-3:30,
for a writing workshop with
Niq Mhlongo Novelist, author of Dog Eat Dog and
Chika Unigwe, Novelist, author of On Black Sisters Street
"masters and transformers
of the role of literary storyteller for a rising generation.
Together they will lead participants into writing -- inspired by theirs --
that is at once expressive and critical, intimate and distanced."

Anne's notes from the workshop

Niq: writing to correct misrepresentations/ways of seeing Africa--and from dreams
tell a story not to entertain, but to instruct
recreate your past, or stories: “did the red sea part?”
reading the Bible to get stories
just write, then shelve it: eventually it will make sense…
or not: some don’t make sense, but it is still your story

Chika: writing from eavesdropping
Bible as a source not just for stories, but for great poetry
tips from different stories that helped me
1) assume knowledge, intelligence (what people don’t know they will pick up;
what they don’t pick up, they don’t need to..) otherwise, you are writing anthropology;
it is difficult for readers to immerse themselves in your work if you spoon-feeding them…
2) do not overrhapsodize; every word has to count, and move your story forward
3) not every true story translates into good fiction; what matters is the emotional truth
4) write what you want to know (not just what you know)
ex of Black Sisters’ Street: earlier draft read like National Geographic--
not til she went to the red light district,
 and felt what is was like to be there, did it begin to work….
5) know your characters thoroughly; if you don’t trust that the
author knows what they are writing about, you won’t immerse yourself in the book
a great challenge for her to write about sex workers--
had to put myself into a vacuum where I was just an instrument in the story;
I had preconceived notions of sex workers, as bad—had to unlearn this;
didn’t want prejudices coming through the book: wouldn’t be emotionally true
I had to be a tabula rosa: so I could imagine myself in their shoes;
my view of the world changed entirely
don’t censor yourself: those you are most afraid of you can hear what you say
6) always aim for clarity

audio of two short stories
“School” by Donald Barthelme
(humorous telling of a sad story--so the bleakness doesn’t overwhelm you)
and “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid (tells so much about social expectations of women,
and about mother’s relationship with her daughter;
it’s about “how to make ends meet”—how to negotiate within patriarchal culture)
dialogue is good: gives voice to the narrator/but no metaphor (?)
also recommended (and available in The New Yorker on-line)
Chinelo Okparanta, “Benji” (also wrote Happiness like Water)
and Alice Munro’s “Dimensions”

Write a story: in the form of a letter to your daughter or son in the 21st century—give the child guidelines for life,
w/out mentioning where you are. Or in Barthelme’s form: really tragic, in a humorous voice. See how far that gets…

1) a good opening hooks the reader
2) use the right words. Let each word earn its place in the story.
dialogue reveals character/social class/level of education

Next exercise. Chika read a short piece she had written: a series of metaphors.
“If you were a library book, I would check you out…” (etc)
Then she asked us to create a character who uses one of these really cheesy lines…

Then she asked us to read our writing out loud,
so we could hear what worked, what didn’t…